Gavin Hill might be an unfamiliar name to many, but no doubt cyclists around the country would have heard of him when he was sentenced to a 17 month jail term for using his bus as a 'weapon' on cyclist Phillip Mead in Bristol. Hill claimed it was 'a moment of madness', but being a former bus driver in London, I know about these 'moments of madness' all too well.
Of course, whichever way you look at it, there are no excuses for what Hill did, but as a former driver, I know the feelings he must have felt when he launched the bus into the cyclist, who so easily could have been killed. Yet, it's not the first time something like that has happened - search through the thousands of 'bus v cyclist' videos on You Tube.
The Judge at Bristol Crown Court said Hill bullied and intimidated Mead, but no-one ever speaks about how so many cyclists, without proper training, insurance or safety helmets try to bully and intimidate their way against buses, especially in London. As a former driver, with years of experience crawling in pollution and sitting in central London's stress streets, I often have flashbacks of the moments of madness in which I could have mowed over thousands of cyclists in the capital.
These heartpounding, nerve racking, butterfly stomach, seconds were not necessarily caused by my control of the bus I drove, but the lack of competence by so many out there on two wheel, pedal power frames of metal. At night before work I used to have trouble sleeping, stressing over how I would deal with the next day's duty (term for bus jobs) and how to drive defensively against other road users, especially vulnerable ones like cyclists, eventually it led me to quit because I did not want to have any accidents with them - I could see it coming when everyday I would see an all too familiar roadside scene - ambulance parked by cyclist hit by lorry or bus - wondering this could be me dialling 999 tomorrow, so best to avoid the scenario altogether.
I often have flashbacks of the moments of madness in which I could have mowed over thousands of cyclists in the capital.
Other drivers smoked in the cab, many drank Red Bull, perhaps their way of dealing with the stress out there, a fag and energy drink to choke over the man riding with no hands because he stuck fingers up, and to stay awake for the rush hour mob of racing city workers playing chicken with the bus, heads and beaks down, flapping away, kicking out as we drive past KFC - smell the chicken, no, but I can smell trouble.
Driving buses is a great job if you are prepared to play cat and mouse with those around you on the road. Cedars Road, Clapham, one day in May 2012 between 8 and 9am, picture the scene, a Big Bus pulls up at the crossroads with Wandsworth Road. Fat driver in the cab looking in mirrors for approaching traffic from behind. Swarm of 40 cyclists race down hill from Clapham Common, passing on either side of bus stationary at red light. One cyclist goes through, ten will follow - causing green light traffic to swerve and slow down, luckily no-one is hurt. Other cyclists waiting have no idea of what has just happened, and why would they? Too busy listening to i-pods, talking on i-phones or reading news on i-pads, me? i-saw it all, even the sweaty cyclist leaning on bus as we pull away - just another day on London's streets.
As a professional driver, respect, courtesy and consideration are fundamental - they teach you this at bus training school - we've all seen the blue or red buses with L plates and 'driver under instruction' on the destination board - that was me once. Driver's are also sent to regular training courses, driver CPC (certificate of professional competence) where they are taught how to drive defensively - how to use the road conditions to maximise safe driving practices.
However, many of the safety principles, like the driver's fag and empty Red Bull can, go out of the window when inside the cab. You have to feel sorry for the buses out there who deal with so many issues on the road. From the man who defacated on the seat, the fare dodger, to the hen night party who threw up on the wheelchair user, mix in the thousands of cyclists who wind them up for fun, and we have a recipe for another Hill v Mead.
Driving along Park Lane one summer's evening, a cyclist pulls in front of the bus wearing a t-shirt which read: 'I hate black cabs and I hate buses' - provocation? or justified feeling? There are a few idiot drivers out there, but despite being stupid, they are insured, have a licence and have been through rigourous training to get there - a bus driver doesn't just turn up and ride a war chariot through town listening to an ipod and reading the paper with his other hand holding a skinny caffe late.
There are a few idiot drivers out there, but despite being stupid, they are insured, have a licence and have been through rigourous training to get there
Even the CTC, the Uk's National Cyclists Organisation has advice for 'Bus Driver's and Cyclists' - no other road users mentioned. They ask for 'drivers and cyclists to adopt behaviour that avoids conflict', 'interact in harmony' and 'promote good relationships'. An easier way of saying that would be 'use your common sense', 'wait at red lights', 'don't undertake', 'leave the ipad at home'.
It really is infuriating for bus drivers to see cyclists checking facebook while riding or tweeting stuff like 'on way to work, big bus trying to ram me off road' whilst on the tarmac. Bus drivers hate cyclists, and no doubt the feelings are reciprocal - ask them. Gone are the days of 'cut me up and i'll give you a flat tyre', now it's 'ride like an idiot and i'll flatten you'. A walk around the garage after the duty echoes with driver chit chat about how this c*** on the bike did this, and that w***** did that - all too common stories which do nothing but emphasise the hate-hate relationship during the commute to work.
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